Knute Rockne All American (1940)

Knute Rockne All American (1940)

“You’d be a success at anything you tried, Knute.”

After his own success as a college football player, Knut Rockne (Pat O’Brien) becomes a beloved coach at Notre Dame, where he mentors numerous players — including George Gipp (Ronald Reagan).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Donald Crisp Films
  • Football
  • John Qualen Films
  • Pat O’Brien Films
  • Ronald Reagan Films

DVD Savant describes this idolizing biopic of Norwegian-American football coach Knute Rockne as “Warners’ valentine to American values”:

… and that just about sums it up perfectly. We see young Rockne (Billy Sheffield) — raised by his supportive dad (John Qualen) and mom (Dorothy Tree) — taking naturally to football:

… Rockne working hard (at the post office) to afford to attend college a little later than most:

… and Rockne getting along swimmingly with his roommate, Gus Dorais (Owen Davis Jr.) — alongside whom he “brought the forward pass to professional football”:

Eventually Rockne must decide — with help from Father John Callahan (Donald Crisp) and Father Julius Nieuwland (Albert Bassermann) — between a career as a chemistry instructor or a coach:

… and, of course, we know which path he will choose. He famously mentors baseball player-turned-football player George Gipp, who mouths the AFI’s 89th Greatest Movie Quote of all time on his deathbed:

“Some day, when things are tough, maybe you can ask the boys to go in there and win just one for the Gipper.”

Speaking of this film embodying “American values”, Gipp states the following line to Rockne’s devoted wife (Gale Page):

“There’ll never be but one Rockne — here at Notre Dame or anywhere else. He’s given us something they don’t teach in schools: something clean and strong inside, not just courage but a right way of living that none of us’ll ever forget.”

Other notable moments covered from Rockne’s life include coaching the “Four Horsemen” of Notre Dame:

… and Rockne’s tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 43, which led to improved aviation building standards. Football fans will surely be curious to check out this flick about the man who earned “the highest all-time winning percentage (.881) for a major college football coach”, and really did seem to be beloved by all — but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tony Gaudio’s cinematography

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1997.


One thought on “Knute Rockne All American (1940)

  1. First viewing. Only for football enthusiasts.

    Sturdy director Lloyd Bacon keeps it all moving smoothly enough. I’m rather removed from football (and its allure) personally so my eyes glazed over when Rockne waxes philosophical about the sport reflecting “the natural spirit of combat”.

    But certainly the ending is sad.

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